By Ateret Goldman
It was a bone chilling Friday night, as I stumbled through the old arts district of Philadelphia, not cognisant of whether I turned left or right, but simply following the lights of the galleries, and the wind which whistled my name. I saw a lot of art that night, old and new, and I played the character of an aesthete, sipping cheap wine in disposable glasses, and remarking on the colors, the movement, the materials. I acted, trying to fit into this trendy art scene, until I entered a place I no longer had to. Hit by radiant warmth, embraced by something completely novel and yet somehow familiar, a place like home.
The Old City Jewish Arts Center was founded in 2006, and already had
developed into a vibrant community by the time I discovered it. Filled with art, and people, each creating moments of connection that seemed to bounce off the brick laid walls. I was touched, deeply. Looking back, I see this as one of the experiences which led me into the arts, having witnessed the impact that giving space for creative energy can have. It was simple, as if nothing remarkable was taking place, which gave the space for a true happening to emerge.
You can imagine my excitement, years laters, when receiving word of an
opportunity to interview Rabbi Zash, the director of the gallery. Though even I could not yet predict what would unfold in our discussion.
I started with a question, which may have exposed my intention to relate under
the frilly, superficial surface that the art market has largely become, "How does your organization relate to Tikun Olam?" I asked.
I think I wanted a straightforward answer. Tikun Olam (translated to repair the
world) has been a guiding concept in my life, however has often felt unattainable, at least through the limited actions us humans are capable of. Instead of stewing in this tension, and leaning into a ground of faith, I have sought clarity through the limited consciousness of those who can simply "tell me how it is." Rabbi Zach did not do that. Instead he pointed to it as an ethic "intertwined, connected into our daily mission and life."
The daily mission of The Old City Jewish Arts Center? Having realized the
importance of the spiritual connection that concepts within Judaism can provide, a
community's need became clear: to provide a space free of the negative connotations many carry with a synagogue, for all to explore and come into contact with something greater than us all. And what better way to do that than through art, art the "ultimate transmission of soul. The identity, culture, and spirituality of the Jewish people has been preserved against all odds and The Old City Jewish Arts Center is a place for this all to thrive. Where as Rabbi Zash says it, one can be nurtured, in all these aspects but not over overwhelmed by any one.
It seemed to me that this would be an incredible task. There is so much that goes
into the culture, identity, spirituality, business, art. How could all these pieces be managed without overshadowing each other? What effort led to the experience that I, like so many others have had that seemed so effortless? While I thanked Rabbi Zash for the time he granted me to work through these questions I had, I am overcome with gratitude for the simple reflection that seemed to guide it all. "When there is a light, people are drawn to it."
By acting as a center for light, The Old City Jewish Arts Center is a beacon and
resource for those who are willing to come out of the shadows, to have their souls
touched, and to become part of the unfolding story, the repair of the world.